This CSM piece gives an excellent background on the British-Iranian conflict that lead to the capture of British soldiers last week. The big mystery is why Iran would give the UK/US a clear casus belli like this, when we’re so clearly itching for a fight. It’s not like they couldn’t guess what sort of reaction there’d be to another “Iranian hostage crisis.” CSM suggests three possible motivations for the Iranians to provoke the British:
- It could be about nukes: “An attempt to rebuke Great Britain for its role in supporting a new United Nations Security Council resolution imposing fresh sanctions over Iran’s refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program.”
- Or maybe they’re looking to trade for some Iranian hostages that nobody bothered to comment on: “Richard Beeston, the diplomatic editor of The Times of London, writes in an analysis that ‘privately there is acknowledgement that [the British sailors’] fate is bound closely to that of the Iranian captives‘ seized by the US” in January.
- Of course, it could also be due to ancient ethnic hatreds cartographic disputes (!?): “The main cause of the showdown could be a centuries-old dispute over the water border between Iran and Iraq. It began with the 1639 Treaty of Zuhab between the Persian and Ottoman empires, which divided the land without a careful survey. Disagreements through the 1980s, and some of the fiercest fighting in the eight-year war between the two nations occurred along this border. The Associated Press quotes Lawrence G. Potter, an associate professor of international affairs at Columbia University, who says that even to this day the exact demarcation has not been established. ‘The problem is that nobody knows where the border is,’ Potter said. ‘The British might have thought they were on their side, the Iranians might have thought they were on their side.'”
These are all fascinating theories, especially the last little dig at Iran’s geographic fundamentalism. But why does no one credit the Iranian claim that the British soldiers were in fact trespassing? It’s water. Boats float on top of it with a remarkable lack of precision. There’s been a flurry of GPS coordinates supposedly proving, or disproving, the location, but all I’ve seen are numbers on the page… nothing approaching real proof.
More to the point, I can easily credit the Iranian claim that these militaries might be engaged in all sorts of special forces or espionage work in or near their territory. We haven’t exactly shown a great deal of respect for national borders and sovereignty, lately, and if we were planning to invade, there’d be a flurry of this sort of minor infringement to put Tehran on edge and slow their reactions to future transgressions.
Of course, I’m probably overreacting… it turns out this has all happened before! CSM draws an apparently obvious parallel with a “2004 incident in which Iranians arrested eight British servicemen on patrol in disputed waters between Iran and Iraq. Those servicemen were released three days later, after making a televised apology for straying into Iran.” Could it all be as simple as that? Iranian hostage crisis: business as usual. Yawn.